Cover Story - Green Building
Water-supply woes, energy costs and environmental concerns are pushing green building practices into the mainstream in Florida.
In Clearwater Beach, JMC Communities' newest project, the Sandpearl Resort, is on track to become the first LEED-certified resort in Florida. Features include preferred parking spaces for hybrid electric cars; geothermal heating for the pool and spas; an AC system that cuts off any time a guest leaves a room or opens a sliding-glass door. JMC CEO J. Michael Cheezem says making the Sandpearl green will cost approximately 5% more, "but when you look at the energy savings, water savings and resource savings, it's remarkable how it adds up."
According to a recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology poll, nearly half of Americans consider global warming the nation's top environmental problem. Awareness of the link between carbon dioxide emissions and climate change is showing up in home buyers' preferences, says Karen Childress, environmental stewardship director at WCI Communities.
California has called for a 25% reduction in its carbon dioxide emissions by 2020; the state could establish controls on industrial sectors, including utilities, oil refineries and cement plants. In Florida, only Sarasota County and the University of Florida have outlined goals to become "carbon neutral" -- to remove as much CO2 from the atmosphere as they add.
In an interview with Florida Trend before he took office, Gov. Charlie Crist said "maybe mandating some requirements as to emissions is something we ought to look at in Florida -- I'm very serious about that."
"It's going to be the status quo much quicker than anyone realizes because it's beginning to make economic sense to do it," Cheezem says. "And the more consumers see, the more they will demand energy-efficient, respectful buildings -- especially homes."
Lakewood Ranch, a 33,000-acre, mixed-use community straddling Sarasota and Manatee counties, requires all-green construction. Director of builder programs Bob Sisum says the per-home cost of building green has dropped from $2,000 to less than $500. In commercial construction, he says, green building increases costs by about 1.4% to 2%.
Aside from cost, the greatest barrier to green building in Florida has been fear of change. Jennifer Languell is a Naples consultant who has a doctorate in civil engineering with a specialty in sustainable construction. Twice, she says, clients with green-development plans, including wildlife corridors, gave up and built traditional gated communities because county governments resisted the increased density called for in the green plans.
In nearby Charlotte County, the health department won't let Waterford Cos., which is building a green development called Mariner's Landing, capture gray water, such as that drained from the bath or clothes washer, and then filter it for use in irrigation. "I was just down in the Turks and Caicos, and water is so precious that you would not be allowed to build anything without using gray water," says Rob Struckman, who oversees green building for Waterford. "There are still a lot of uneducated officials out there as far as gray water is concerned."
Developers seeking to solar-power communities face similar barriers. Pinellas County commercial real estate developer Grady Pridgen, who has turned to mixed-use residential communities, has pledged that all of his company's projects will be built green. Pridgen controls large swaths in St. Petersburg's Gateway area, which has one of the largest concentrations of employers in the state, with some 150,000 jobs, but little housing. He has ambitious goals to build communities where "you don't need a car and you don't get a utility bill." But he says state rules stand in the way of developing solar energy, including his plans for a 4-megawatt solar-cell panel system in a high-rise project. Florida caps the amount of alternative energy any one development can generate to 10 kilowatts, about enough to power a 1,500-sq.-ft. energy-efficient home.
State Sen. Mike Bennett, a Bradenton Republican who has criticized Florida's investor-owned utilities for not doing more to develop alternative energy sources, plans a bill in this year's legislative session that would make it easier for developers to do large-scale solar.
Some advocates say the state needs a green-building champion -- ideally, the new governor -- to inspire change in all state government functions where rules and regulations haven't caught up with sustainable-building and low-impact development trends.